Thursday, November 5, 2015

Who Is Buying the Pizza?

I totally get why Education Minister Liz Sandals feels the way she does about receipts. They are a pain in the butt. So difficult to organize. Always impossible to find when needed.

They swell our wallets, clutter our vehicle dashboards and are bad for the environment. The Internet tells me that 640,000 tons of paper receipts are used in the US each year. And, it takes 1.2 billion gallons of water annually to produce those paper receipts.

So we understand why Minister Liz can’t be bothered asking for receipts for the taxpayer dollars she gave teachers’ unions to cover their travel, hotel and food expenses while negotiating new working contracts. After all, she does have a masters degree in mathematics and knows the price of pizzas. With those qualifications who needs receipts?

“You’re asking me if I have receipts and invoices; no, I don’t,” she said when asked if she got receipts for $2.5 million in teacher union expense spending. “You don’t need to see every bill when you’re doing an estimate of costs. I don’t ask.”

"We know what the meeting rooms cost. We know what the food costs. We know what 100 pizzas cost.”

When you are that smart and up on the cost of pizzas, asking for receipts seems old-fashioned and unnecessary.

The practice of getting and giving receipts might be old-fashioned in the sense that it has been around for a long time. Roughly 5,200 years actually. All the way back to the time when writing was invented.

So billions of people over 50 centuries have thought receipts are a good thing, especially when it comes to managing money. Billions of people, but not Liz Sandals.

Written receipts are believed to date back to 3200 BC in Mesopotamia. The oldest known existing receipt was given 4,000 years ago to a guy named Alulu in Samaria. It was for the sale of five sheep, a lamb and four grass-fed goat kids and was written on a clay tablet.

Presumably Alulu was not as smart at math as Liz Sandals, and not up to speed on the price of livestock, so that’s why he asked for the receipt.          

Someone must have told Premier Wynne about Alulu and receipt history because she overruled her education minister. She says the teachers’ unions have not yet been given the $2.5 million but when they are receipts will be required.

So Ontario taxpayers can breathe easier knowing that their government says it intends to follow the 5200-year-old practice of getting receipts.

That still leaves us with a worrisome problem, however. Why are taxpayers paying teachers’ union expenses while they negotiate higher salaries and better working conditions?

Minister Liz says the money is being shelled out because of the transition to a new bargaining system with teachers.

“When you are going through a transformational process, if you want the transformation to work, the first thing to do is to get the people into the building and committed to making the process work by being there . . . ” she said.

I assume that means that unless the government pays travel, hotel and food (including pizzas) expenses, the teachers’ negotiators will not show up to negotiate. The last time I was in a union we paid dues to build a fund to pay expenses like negotiating working agreements.

However, this latest scandal is about more than just who pays for the pizza. It’s all about politics.

During the 2014 provincial election the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association together spent more than $3 million on political advertising. Most of it was for ads attacking the Liberal government’s main opponent, the Conservatives.

So the government makes secret payments for teachers’ union expenses (including pizzas), plus gives them special favors and rich contracts. In return the teachers’ unions spend money, some of it which came from taxpayers, to ensure the government stays in power.

The government says it is routine to pay teacher union expenses incurred in negotiations.

Routine? Sleazy is a more accurate, more appropriate word.

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